Power Sector Emissions Declining as Coal Plants Retire

Council members heard an update on carbon emissions from the power sector, both in the Northwest region and nationally, at their January meeting.

Annika Roberts, resource policy analyst, reviewed the 2022 regional and national carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation, highlighting the current downward trend on emissions as coal plants retire.

Other key takeaways:

  • Regional and national CO2 emissions have been declining since the early 2000s
  • The region’s emissions have been historically lower than the nation due to the hydrosystem
  • The region’s thermal fleet is shifting, with natural gas producing more power than coal for the first time in 2018
  • Most of the region’s coal plants are scheduled to retire by 2030; what resources are built to replace them will have a big impact on future emissions
  • Although few new gas plants are likely to be built in the region, we expect an increase in gas plant utilization in the near term for the flexibility and reserves they provide
  • Ambitious carbon and greenhouse gas goals set at the national, state, and utility level will play a significant role in reducing future emissions
  • Increasing renewable generation is on the rise due to low costs and legislative support
  • Like the region, the U.S. is seeing decreasing coal generation and an increase in natural gas and renewable generation; the Energy Information Administration forecasts this trend to hold over the next few years